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MONKELIS v. SCIENTIFIC SYS. SERVS.

February 3, 1987

MICHAEL R. MONKELIS, Plaintiff,
v.
SCIENTIFIC SYSTEMS SERVICES, Defendant


Maurice B. Cohill, Jr., C.J.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: COHILL

This case is presently before us on defendant's motion to dismiss. The complaint arose out of plaintiff's discharge from employment by defendant, his former employer. Plaintiff was discharged in "mid-December" 1981, and brought suit December 6, 1985.

 For the reasons set forth below we will grant the defendant's motion to dismiss as to Counts V and VI of plaintiff's complaint. Defendant's motion will be denied as to all other counts of the complaint.

 Count V

 Count V of plaintiff's complaint is a wrongful discharge claim, alleging that defendant contrived to discharge plaintiff in such a manner that plaintiff was prevented from collecting unemployment benefits. Defendant argues that there are both substantive and procedural grounds for dismissal of Count V. While we find that defendant's argument for dismissal on substantive grounds is without basis, we agree that Count V is barred by the statute of limitations set forth in 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 5524(3).

 The substantive argument advanced by defendant is that the facts alleged in the complaint do not fall within the "public policy exception" to the employment-at-will doctrine. See Novosel v. Nationwide Insurance Co., 721 F.2d 894, 898 (3d Cir. 1983); Geary v. U.S. Steel Corp., 456 Pa. 171, 319 A.2d 174 (1974); Darlington v. General Electric, 350 Pa. Super. 183, 207-11, 504 A.2d 306, 318-20 (1986). Defendant argues that the facts which plaintiff alleges do not contravene public policy. We are not convinced by this argument. Plaintiff's allegation that defendant contrived to prevent plaintiff from obtaining unemployment compensation, if true, would certainly contravene public policy. Therefore, Count V does state an actionable claim, within the public policy exception to the employment-at-will doctrine. We cannot dismiss Count V on substantive grounds.

 Defendant also argues that Count V is barred by a two-year statute of limitations. A Pennsylvania statute, 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 5524, enumerates actions which are governed by a two-year limitations period. Other actions are subject to a residual six-year limitations period. 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 5527. Subparagraph (7) of section 5524 became effective on February 18, 1983. It is a catch-all provision which specifies a two-year limitations period for "any other action or proceeding to recover damages for injury to person or property which is founded on negligent, intentional, or otherwise tortious conduct or any other action or proceeding sounding in trespass, including deceit or fraud, except an action or proceeding subject to another limitation specified in this subchapter." If subparagraph (7) were applicable, it would clearly encompass the allegation in Count V. See Mazzanti v. Merck & Co., 770 F.2d 34, 35 (3d Cir. 1985). However, subparagraph (7) is not applicable because it did not come into effect until well after the events which gave rise to plaintiff's complaint.

 Defendant argues that, even though subparagraph (7) cannot apply, Count V falls within the ambit of subparagraph (3) of section 5524, which was in effect at the time that plaintiff's claim arose. Subparagraph (3) mandates a two-year limitations period for actions involving the "taking, detaining or injuring [of] personal property, including actions for specific recovery thereof."

 A number of cases have applied subparagraph (3) to analogous actions. Minor v. Cyclops Corp., 32 D. & C. 3d 485 (Allegh. 1984), an Allegheny County Common Pleas Court case, involved a factual situation quite similar to the instant case. The plaintiff in Minor sued for wrongful discharge, alleging that she was fired when she told her employer that she was about to file a workmen's compensation claim. Her claim arose before subparagraph (7) went into effect. The court held that subparagraph (3) barred the claim under a two year limitations period.

 Other cases have analyzed whether subparagraph (3) applies to actions for tortious interference with employment contracts. Although the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has not addressed this issue, Home for Crippled Children v. Erie Insurance Exchange, 130 P.L.J. 480 (Allegh. 1982), aff'd mem., 329 Pa. Super. 610, 478 A.2d 84 (1984) held that subparagraph (3) governs actions for tortious interference with contractual relationships. The court reasoned that the language of subparagraph (3) applies to actions for injury to personal property, and personal property under Pennsylvania law includes "everything except real estate." Id. at 481. Furthermore, subparagraph (3) should be broadly construed:

 
There would be no reason for the Legislature to apply a longer limitations period to actions for damages to intangible property. In fact, if the Legislature were to distinguish between injuries to intangible and tangible property, we would expect an action for damages to tangible personal property to have a greater limitation period because these damages are easier to establish at a later date.

 Id. The court noted that its holding was consistent with the Pennsylvania Bar Association's explanation of the Judicial Code, the prevailing case law of other jurisdictions, and the Superior Court decision in Bickell v. Stein, 291 Pa. Super. 145, 435 A.2d 610 (1981). Id. at 482. See also Bender v. McIlhatten, 360 Pa. Super 168, 520 A.2d 37 (1987) (subparagraph (3) applies to torts against intangible personal property, and therefore bars an action for tortious interference with lease negotiations, which accrued prior to the effective date of subparagraph (7)).

 The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed that subparagraph (3) applies to claims for tortious interference with employment contracts. In Mazzanti v. Merck & Co., 770 F.2d 34, 36 (3d Cir. 1985), the Third Circuit Court cited the "thorough analysis and reasoning" of Home for Crippled Children and held that the two year limitations period barred suit.

 Yaindl v. Ingersoll-Rand, 281 Pa. Super. 560, 573-77, 422 A.2d 611, 618-20 (1980), addresses the question of whether wrongful discharge claims should be equated with claims for tortious interference with employment contracts. Under the court's analysis, the two types of claims are highly analogous, which lends further support to the holding of the Allegheny Common ...


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